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Trying to imagine 24 without Jack Bauer is like trying to imagine Mission: Impossible without Ethan Hunt. It’s doable, but many fans may find themselves reluctant to try out the reboot, 24: Legacy, when it premieres after the Super Bowl on Feb. 5. They shouldn’t be, though, because with newcomer Corey Hawkins (known for playing Dr. Dre in Straight Outta Compton) the writing team behind the original series has found a worthy successor capable of carrying storylines as tense and action-packed as anything Kiefer Sutherland shouldered.
Hawkins’ character, young former Army ranger Eric Carter, is no Bauer retread. He’s seen plenty of action—helping take out an Osama bin Laden-like terrorist in Yemen, for instance—but there’s an innocence about him. He’s never been a counterterror agent and hasn’t had to consider thorny matters like whether the expeditious use of torture might save lives. Thus, he doesn’t yet possess Jack’s world-weariness. We quickly get the feeling that working with the Counter Terrorist Unit will get him to Bauer levels of cynicism in due time, but for the present, Eric’s still something of an idealist.
Since retiring from service, he and the other members of his elite team (obviously inspired by the real SEAL Team Six) have been living in witness protection, trying to establish normal civilian lives. That ends when their new identities are leaked to a terror cell intent on avenging its lost leader. The stakes quickly climb beyond the lives of Eric, his wife, and his immediate circle.
The issues Legacy delves into are both familiar and fresh. Terror and Islamic extremism are still present, but now the government’s poor care of its veterans complicates matters. If any skepticism was raised by Fox producers’ decision to carry on the show without Sutherland, it should be dispelled not only by Hawkins’ fine performance, but also by how the writers make his ethnicity (Hawkins is black) a key part of the story-line. They give Eric an origin story that subtly explores (and responsibly explores, at least early in the season) the racial issues currently preoccupying our country. Growing up in the projects, Eric clearly found the Army to be a lifeline to a better life. Other members of his family made different choices, with different outcomes.
For all the addictive cliffhangers, the thing this reboot is most missing is the sense of gravity possessed by the original’s best seasons.
Legacy at times seems willing to fudge potentially controversial reality for the sake of added flash. The drug kingpin characters in particular feel soap opera-ish and silly, more like a bid to pull in younger Empire fans than a necessary part of the plot.
Worse, though, is a gay love story tacked in with almost laughable ham-handedness. The awkward breakup conversation between a nerdy analyst and a tough, silent-type field operative comes completely out of left field, suggesting the writers might not have bothered creating a romantic subplot for these characters had they been male and female. It’s just lazy characterization and in that light shouldn’t be welcome by anyone anywhere on the ideological spectrum. That said, the first four episodes suggest this blip of a storyline will stay just that—a quick, cheap signal to assure the millennial folks this isn’t their dad’s 24.
One last, minor complaint. Fans of the original series tended to fall into two camps: Chloe lovers and Chloe haters. For my part, I very much miss the petulant, whiny presence of Jack’s most loyal analyst. None of the new crew at the home office comes close to her level of comic relief.
So Fox doesn’t have to bring back Jack; but if they could bring back Chloe, then I’d really be sold.